Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Initial traffic fatality figures for last year show a jump in bicyclist and pedestrian deaths on Georgia roads. A cycling advocate explains that the city’s lower speed limits and an increase in bike lanes have made Atlanta safer, while the state has made moves to embrace all-user safety on its roads. A state transportation official writes that progress is being made.
Commenting is open below Meg Pirkle’s column.
By Rebecca Serna
The year 2012 was a banner one for bicycling in Atlanta, with the opening of the Beltline Eastside Trail and the 5th Street green bike lane and increases in bike counts. The city is on track to become a truly bicycle-friendly community in a few years.
The state of Georgia didn’t fare so well.
Bicycle fatalities rose last year. Nineteen Georgians died in bike crashes, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation, up from 13 in 2011. And pedestrian fatalities increased to 168 people killed in 2012 from 124 the year before. Driving deaths were up, too, but by just 5 percent.
GDOT says a total of 1,193 deaths occurred on Georgia roads in 2012, down from 1,236 in 2011. (Note: All 2012 numbers are unofficial until the final count is released in May.)
Still, the data point to disparities in how our transportation networks treat “vulnerable users” — those traveling without two tons of metal encasing their bodies.
The data also present problems. They don’t tell us if cycling is getting safer or more dangerous; since we don’t know how many people are cycling, we don’t know what’s happening to the rate of bike fatalities. Transportation agencies are not yet counting people on bikes and on foot the way they do cars. New technology makes people-counting both easy and affordable. How can we measure what we don’t count?
Interestingly, none of the fatal bike crashes were in the city of Atlanta. A recent presentation at the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety sheds light on why. Most fatal bike crashes take place on big, fast streets with speed limits over 45 mph. In contrast, most city cycling happens on streets with lower speeds due to greater congestion and more traffic signals. While urban streets don’t always feel comfortable for cycling, it’s speeding, not traffic, that kills.
Luckily, the problems causing serious bike crashes have solutions.
None of the cyclists struck and killed by motor vehicles in the past six years was riding in a bike lane. Bike lanes — especially the newer “protected” bike lanes or “cycle tracks” that physically separate cars and bikes using raised curbs or planters — are a safe alternative and attract new riders. People who would never have wheeled their bikes onto a street with mixed traffic are embracing bicycling on cycle tracks across the country. Chicago just opened its 30th mile of cycle track and sees the increase in bike traffic as key to economic growth.
Georgia is beginning to open up to these projects. GDOT has adopted a “Complete Streets” policy, which calls for consideration of all types of facilities in roadway construction, to offer safe access to bikes, pedestrians and transit as well as vehicles. GDOT just needs to make that policy a reality on the ground.
We have too many six-lane arterials with no sidewalks, no safe crossings and no bike facilities. Using road diets to lower speeds and add bicycle and pedestrian facilities makes sense not only for public safety, but for local economic development.
State safety money could be used to fund these life-saving improvements. Bicyclists and pedestrians die at higher rates on Georgia’s roadways. Shouldn’t our state build the infrastructure we know will make them safer?
Rebecca Serna is executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.
By Meg Pirkle
Roadway safety for all citizens is an important goal at the Georgia Department of Transportation. The department employs numerous programs to advance safety for all modes of transportation. Last year, fatalities in motor vehicle crashes rose just slightly, while those involving pedestrians and bicyclists experienced a larger increase over the previous year. The department is not satisfied with those results and will continue to strengthen and promote programs and strategies to combat the number of fatalities on Georgia’s roadways.
Georgia DOT coordinates with federal, regional, county and local government agencies to ensure the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians are addressed through system-wide planning efforts. GDOT and its partners across the state are proactive in efforts to improve safety along the roadways. We study locations most used by bicyclists and pedestrians to document and review safety concerns, and evaluate locations of pedestrian or bicycle crashes. Organizations working with pedestrians and bicyclists are routinely engaged and often present information to the State Transportation Board.
The department also is partnering with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health Transportation and Safety Evaluation Group to develop a complete pedestrian crash study to provide vital data on incidents. This data may assist GDOT and our many partners throughout the state to identify potential safety enhancements in key locations.
Additionally, the department is updating the current Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Plan to incorporate new policies and best practices from around the country. The plan will also analyze crash locations for pedestrians and bicyclists and evaluate countermeasures intended to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety where needed.
The department’s Traffic Operations office is in the coordination phase of developing a Road Safety Audit team. The team is an independent multidisciplinary unit charged with qualitatively estimating and reporting on potential road safety issues and identifying opportunities for improvements in safety for all road users. GDOT anticipates integrating Road Safety Audits into the project development process for new roads and intersections, and also encourages such audits on existing roads and intersections. Recent test audits on several roadways were completed in the city of Atlanta and DeKalb County.
The State Transportation Board recently adopted the Complete Streets Program, which requires the consideration of bicycle and pedestrian facility accommodations as a design policy of the department. The concept of Complete Streets emphasizes safety, mobility and accessibility for all modes of travel, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and motorists. All locations for future GDOT projects are subject to this policy and must be incorporated in regional, local, state or county planning as well.
These are just a few of the mechanisms the department is utilizing in the ongoing efforts to advance citizen safety on the thousands of miles of roads across Georgia. Working to reduce fatalities on the state’s roads is and will continue to be a central goal of GDOT.
Meg Pirkle is director of permits and operations for the Georgia Department of Transportation.